Monday, March 5, 2018

Acts 21:1-16 ”Let the Will of the Lord be done“

Our text  raises an interesting question.  How far should we go  in listening to others before we make a decision that  nobody  will approve of?  
Here we are obviously not talking about  going against a clear moral  matter.  This text does not endorse someone that plans to  go against the explicit moral  will of God. So, we are dealing with a fairly narrow scope.
The issue at hand is that Paul, on a number of occasions was warned not to go to Jerusalem, as the Jews were plotting to kill him, but he  went nevertheless, and against an overwhelming opinion. 

Following the text ….
1 And when we[1] had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, for there the ship was to unload its cargo.

Everywhere  Paul goes  the disciples are concerned  about the fact that  Paul  is going  to Jerusalem. When he was at  Cenchrea, the port city nearest to Corinth, he had discovered a plot of the Jews to  kill him as he was then on his way to Jerusalem (20:3).   And he  decided  to  foil their plot by taking another route -  a very roundabout   land journey  north,  through Thessalonica and Philippi and then across  and down to Miletus, which is close to Ephesus. Here  he and his travelling companions  were hoping to  find  a ship  to cross the Mediterranean  sea  towards  Tyre and Caesarea, and eventually on  to Jerusalem. In Acts 20  we saw  that  Paul had  met with the Ephesian elders in Miletus, and after a tearful  farewell,  he sets his sights on Jerusalem.  He says  that he is “constrained  by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem , not knowing what will happen to him there.” He says that the Holy Spirit  testifies to him   in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await him. He knew that he would probably not see the Ephesian elders again  (20:22-25). 

The journey takes Paul  and his travelling companions to the island of Cos, and on to Rhodes  and Patara. At Patara they would  take a ship down to Phoenicia, more than 600 kilometres eastward across the Mediterranean sea, a sea journey of about 5 days. Syria controlled Phoenicia in the Roman period,  and here they landed  at the port of Tyre,  a city well known in the Old Testament. 

Paul and his companions spent seven days in Tyre. Here he does what he always does. He meets with the  Christian  church. There is the wonderful fact that wherever Paul went, he found a Christian community waiting to welcome him. One of the great privileges of belonging to the Church is the fact that no matter where we go we  can find  a  church community.  We have a worldwide  family and friends. The same will happen at  Ptolemais (21:7) and   also  in Caesarea (21:8). Paul’s heart beats for the church of Jesus.  And you  will notice that  in Tyre and Caesarea, just as in Miletus there are  many emotions involved.  

Our key verse is found in v. 14.  Everywhere people are saying   that  Paul is going against counsel  to  Jerusalem, and  so  they literally give him up to the will of God .

Tyre (21:3-7)

The disciples in Tyre  ‘through the Spirit’ warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Everyone knew,  and Paul knew  (cf. 20:22,23) that He would suffer,  if not be killed  there.  Clearly  Paul was very valuable to all these disciples.  It is understandable. They do not want him to die, and they do everything possible to stop him from going. The problem is with that little phrase ‘through the Spirit’. They were telling Paul not to go, ‘through the Spirit’. So then  if what they are  saying is genuinely of the Holy Spirit,  is Paul now  disobedient to the Holy Spirit by resisting their counsel?  How do we understand this?

The answer is that they rightly discerned what the Holy Spirit was saying would happen if  Paul should go to Jerusalem. But their conclusion was not of the Holy Spirit. John Stott says, “The warning was Divine, while the urging was human!” And  so  Paul went  to the next destination… the port of Caesarea. 

Caesarea (21: 7-12)

Caesarea  some 100 kilometres  further south  was  a seaport built by  King Herod the Great  and  at this time it was  also the  provincial capital of Judea.  Here we find a more intense   repetition of what  happened in Tyre (v. 12). A  prophet named Agabus  from  Judea  invokes a graphic warning upon  Paul. We have heard of   him  before, in  Acts  11.   In  the days  when  the apostle Peter   was still  the dominant figure  he  prophesied  that there would a  devastating   famine  throughout the then known world. This led to  the fact  that the church in Antioch sent relief aid  to the brothers living in Judea  (11: 27-30). There is no doubt that this  was a proven a prophet of God, a  man who spoke by the Spirit of God.  Jewish prophets had a certain custom. When words were inadequate, they dramatized their message. There are many instances of this in the Old Testament, for example, Isaiah 20:3-4; Jeremiah 13:1-11; Jeremiah 27:2; Ezekiel 4:1-17 ; Ezekiel 5:1-4; 1 Kings 11:29-31.  Agabus  takes  Paul's belt and binds his own hands and feet, and  tells him : 'This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'  We know that this prophecy was  fulfilled. 
What is of significance  is that Agabus’s prophecy  was seen  by the church community in Caesarea as a sign that Paul should not go to Jerusalem. It also seems that  Luke and Paul’s other travelling companions  include themselves  in this opinion. (21:12

Paul's interpretation and correct understanding of God's will ( 21:13-16)

14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, "Let the will of the Lord be done." 

What is Paul's conclusion? He knows what will happen, but against all prevailing   counsel  he comes to the opposite conclusion.  What are we to make of this?  The most obvious  answer is that which is provided for  us in the text: 13 Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." 

What is  Paul’s motive?  He is doing this for the name of the Lord Jesus. You will remember that Jesus faced the same objections from  His team of disciples  when  He went to   the vicinity of Jerusalem  (e.g.  John 11:16). And He, in accordance with prophecy (e.g. Isaiah 53) was killed in Jerusalem. 

Paul  was mastered by One. Therefore we can see that  Paul did not fear  what they  feared. They feared losing  Paul. He was valuable to them, and they could not think their lives  without  him, and so , in one sense  there is a  selfish motive involved here.
In Paul’s  heart there  is the motive of completing  the work that the Lord Jesus had given  Him to do. He was after all, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. As it is, we will learn that he will not die in Jerusalem, although he will be beaten and abused  (21:32). 
But the Lord Jesus  has a lot more work to do  for Paul  before he takes him home, eventually we believe  in Rome.  And  Paul  will   be  a most useful servant, even  though he  will be in prison.  Just think of the fact that we now  have in hand some of Paul’s  so called prison epistles  — Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.

I will close with a brief survey  of  Paul’s  theology  and  thinking  as a result  of his not listening to his Christian brothers and sisters. I  will  restrict myself to portions of  his letter to the Philippians:

1.     Phil. 1:12-18 :  There were some amongst the  Imperial  Guard who had heard the gospel! It was worth it just for that!  The church  at Tyre and Caesarea wanted Paul  not to  go, but God's will was deeper and profounder.  God had  more work to do  for Paul – from prison, and that would never have  happened   unless Paul went to Jerusalem and unless he was arrested and sent  to a jail in Rome. And what is more   is that  other Christians had become emboldened  to speak the Word without fear because of Paul’s presence and testimony  in this Roman prison.

2.     Phil.  1:20-23:  Remaining alive  for the sake  of simply remaining alive  was no reason for Paul to stay away from  Jerusalem. Paul’s motive was to honour Christ in his body, whether by life  or death.  I am afraid, that modern Christians  make too much  of life for life’s sake –to the point of being idolatrous about life. We desperately want to live as long as we can, because, I suspect we believe that this sad earth is our heaven.  Few   have this  idea in  their  minds that they should die  in the service of Christ.  Few  desire heaven and Christ more  than this life. Paul would rather depart and be with Christ. There is a legitimate  reason however  why Paul wants to stay alive, and that is for the sake of those that  still need his encouragement and  the testimony of his Christlike  example  - see Phil.  1:24

3.     Phil 2:1-11: Paul’s greatest  reflection in his letter to the Philippians  is found here  in  this text in which  he thinks about the life and death of Christ. Christ  went willingly to Jerusalem to offer himself  up as  a sacrifice for us  and  this  humiliation which made no sense to the disciples nor to anyone at the time of His dying was  vindicated  when  He was raised from the dead. Against all popular opinion God exalted Him!  Aren’t you glad today that Christ obeyed God  and not popular opinion, and not even His own  fear in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Let that be sufficient for now. The point we are making is that God had greater plans for Paul than the churches everywhere  where able to conceive or understand.  
And so the big lesson  of Acts 21:1-16  is not   for you to have an excuse to be self- willed. Generally and overwhelmingly speaking  it is important for   all of us to listen to the counsel of our Christian brothers and sisters. The big lesson  here is  that Paul  as an apostle  knew himself to be in the hands of God. And in this specific mission he stands unique. It is not for you  to go now to Jerusalem to  figure out  your future  against  the counsel of your brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

The general principle is that  you must always obey the clear call of the Lord Jesus Christ. And sometimes  (and you better  make sure that this is so!) it means going against popular opinion (Acts 4:19,20).  And when you do that,   for Christ’s  sake, do not  hold  your  Christian family’s differing opinion against them.  And if it is God that is truly calling, and  you perceive that  your church does not  understand  then do not hold them ransom  to your calling. Instead you  go in the Lord's strength  trusting Him alone.  Be extremely careful  however when you choose  such a course.  

[1] Again, note the pronoun  we, as Luke includes himself in the narrative

Sunday, February 25, 2018

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 - IS CHURCH MEMBERSHIP BIBLICAL?

Our text teaches us that: 
(i)               V.12 The church can be compared to a human body with its many constituent parts (members). 
(ii)             V.13 The Holy Spirit is the One who brings about the new birth into that membership. (VERY IMPORTANT!)
(iii)           V.14 Although the body is one being, yet the body has many components (legs, arms, torso, various organs and sub –parts foot, ears, eyes  etc.)  
(iv)            Vv.15 -17 each part serves a different purpose, but all exist for the good and benefit of the whole. No part exists (nor can it exist) for its own benefit.
(v)             Vv.18 -26 God arranged the members of the human body, as He sovereignly chose. Our bodies are His design. This design is not based on a single body part, but on a variety of body parts, and no body part is indispensable. No part of the body can say, ‘I don’t need you’. Paul repeats this again and again. There can be no thought of division of the body (v.25) and mutual caring of the members of our body is assumed. In fact, if one  part of the body suffers, all parts suffer; if one part rejoices, all  rejoice (v.26)
(vi)            V.27 So this analogy  of the  human works well  to describe  the  workings of the church.
(vii)          Vv. 28-30 In the church, which is made up of all those  who were baptized into one body by the Holy Spirit  there are various members with varying spiritual gifts, working together for the common good.
(viii)        V.31 and Chapter 13:  the attitude in which the body of Christ lives and works together is called ‘the more excellent way’ by Paul. In Chapter 13 Paul warns us that mere giftedness (13:1-3) is not what keeps a church unified. The gifts and individual talents of people must work by the rule of 13:4-7. This is the love that animates and produces true body life – true church life! 

I trust that from this text the Holy Spirit has immediately convinced you that membership in a church is a biblical concept. 
And it is essential.  According to this text you cannot say that you are a Christian, but not a member of the church.  Take careful note of this! To be ‘baptized by one Spirit into one body…’ (v.13) means that you are born again ( for that is what Spirit baptism is) into one body  (the body of Christ – the church). 
The new birth = baptism by one Spirit. 
The Holy Spirit baptizes us into Jesus, but this is not where it ends. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Jesus – the church! You therefore cannot say, Jesus – YES, church - NO!   You cannot divide that which God has joined together.   If you have been sceptical, then I   trust that the Holy Spirit inspired Bible  has won the argument today. If you say that you trust Christ, it also follows that you  must obey Him.  You cannot detach yourself from the body of Christ  if you claim to be His follower any more  than an  eye or an ear or a leg  can detach itself from your body, and survive!

There are many people in our day who are sceptical about joining in a church membership. Some say 'it’s not in the Bible’, using the common argument, ‘where in the Bible is there a membership list’?Others say that they have been previously hurt in a local church (and that is a problem that needs to be dealt with!) and like a divorced person they are now reluctant to commit themselves again to such a relationship in membership.  They use this argument to keep the church at a distance, whilst perhaps attending church services.  But that is it. No commitment, no accountability to the body.

But here is the painful reality and it is ironic.  There are members of any given local church that actually do the same. Whilst they are members, their participation in the body of Christ is not evident. They do not exert their spiritual gift in a meaningful way and with joy. They do not pray with the church in any visible way. Their fellowship is limited. They do not participate in the gospel ministry of the church. From our text we see that the membership that Paul envisages is   an integrated, committed, serving-one-another, loving, involved membership – just like the picture of the human body and its constituent parts, work in real sympathy and real support.  

So then, the concept of biblical church membership needs to be thought through.  And before we talk about being added to  a  membership list of our local church  we need  to be clear that  we are right with God.  Sometime  ago  a member  of our church came to me and said that they wanted to resign from membership, because  they felt that they were not  involved in the church  in any meaningful way, and did not attend regularly, and  did not serve the church. That was all true, and we have reason to believe that there was more to that conversation  than meets the eye, but  the bigger question in my own heart was this: “Is this   dear soul really converted?”   How can you leave that which Christ loves supremely, unless of course our church is not a true church? 

The basis of biblical membership is being right with God. Last week Pastor Brits laid the foundation for today’s message when he preached from John 3:1-8‘You must be born again’. The new birth, being born again from above  is foundational to being and becoming  a member of the church. Whenever this first principle has been disregarded in the life of the church, she will quickly lose her first love. Unconverted members kill the church, because there is no spiritual life in an unconverted person. Unconverted people do not love Jesus. They love an organisation that meets their needs, and helps them when it comes to dealing  with the vital  rituals of life – birth, marriage, death.

Let me help you to see this briefly by appealing to church history. When the early church embraced the practice of baptizing their children, the church  in the afterglow of  the plain  teaching of the apostles grew steadily  lukewarm  as baptized  children became church members  without necessarily experiencing  the new birth.  The church grew, so to speak by infant baptisms rather than by conversions. The  so called  dark  ages which  followed (roughly from the fall of Rome in 496 AD until the Renaissance  – 1500 AD)  were dark because  the church had become  a lukewarm, nominal entity, ruled by a corrupt  regime of popes and political power-brokers.  With few exceptions the reading of the history of the church of that time, including the 9 crusades (1095-1272 AD) doesn’t make for pretty reading. Religious zealotry akin to the Pharisees combined with political idealism ruled the day.   Please understand:  The unconverted heart can only do what it does, and in the hands of Satan the unconverted heart is the most powerful tool to subvert the holiness of the church.  That is why the Reformation was such a tonic. It was a spiritual awakening, and central to that awakening was the preaching of the gospel.  Men like Luther and Calvin and many others preached the gospel, and the Holy Spirit was pleased to blow liberally and many were converted.   Baptists, if we include the  Anabaptists of the  Reformation,  in their nearly 500 years since the Reformation  have substantially believed in the necessity of the new birth as the primary  requirement for  church membership. Conversion would then be followed by baptism and church membership. This is the New Testament practise, and this is where we stand today.  A healthy church is where  people are truly  converted  and  added to the church  by  signifying this in believers baptism.

Returning to the  Metaphor of the Body

Church membership is implied in the metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12–31.   There is a unity and organic relationship implied in the imagery of the body. There is something unnatural about a Christian attaching him or herself to a body of believers and not being a member of the body.

That is God’s plan for us and for this church. That is what we mean by membership. The membership list, and going through a series of membership classes  are secondary matters, but they do follow from that great principle of the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12. So when you are asking, ‘Where  do you find a membership list in the Bible?’  you are asking the wrong question. And  if you are saying, ‘but I have been hurt in the church  and will not  commit  myself to another’   then you are  letting  your negative emotions rule  over the truth as it is in Jesus.  
The answer is: Find a church that exhibits the true marks of a church   (e.g. Acts 2:42). And if you say, ‘But I am a member of the universal church  of Christ, I don’t need  to belong to a local church‘, then I want you to consider that Paul was writing this letter not to the members  of the universal church, but the local church at Corinth. And he wrote a letter  to the Roman church, the Ephesian church, the  Galatian and Thessalonian churches, the Philippian and Colossian church, as well as the letters to Timothy, Pastor of the local  church at Ephesus.     

Final Appeal

The New Testament knows of no Christians who are not accountable members of a local church in the sense that we have just seen.  The  New Testament indicates  that  to be excluded from the local church was to be excluded from Christ, as in the case of the church discipline  found in 1 Corinthians 5.  Are you committed to discipline and being disciplined according to biblical standards? How can you exclude some from the membership of the church, if they are not recognised as a church member?  

Do you see yourself and your gifts as part of an organic ministering body?

And how do the leaders of a local church know who they are accountable for? 

Have you publicly declared your willingness to be shepherded and to be led by the leaders of a local church?
So, are you an accountable member of a local church?  The question is not, ‘Is your name somewhere on some membership list?’ It should be.   The question is, are you actively engaged as a member of your local church? Have you said so by way of a public affirmation?   

After all is said and done, remember  that  Church membership begins with the work of the Holy Spirit. He applies the  work of  Jesus  (a blood bought gift) to your heart and He unites you  to other  brothers and sisters in your given locality.  More than most of us realize, it is a life-sustaining, faith-strengthening, joy-preserving means of God’s mercy to us.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Acts 20:17-38 A Practical Insight into the Work of Pastor - Elders

What is the work of the Pastor-  elder?  In our day there is much confusion about the nature and the purpose of the pastoral ministry.  The pastor/elder, depending on whom you speak to,  is sometimes thought  to be  a social worker,  or a  psychologist,  a teacher, a facilitator, a motivational speaker, an  administrator  or perhaps  a  problem solver.  And churches do have problems! You know of course that wherever two or three are gathered together, problems develop! You only have to read Paul’s epistles   to see that.  Egos are easily  bruised, procedures become messed up, arrangements become confused, plans go wonky, temperaments clash!  There are marriage problems, work problems, child-raising problems, committee problems, emotional problems, and  the first we normally look to are the pastor-elders  to  interpret, explain, administer, organise and solve  all this. Clearly, nobody can be  and do all this. 
So  what is the essence of Pastoral work?

Acts 20: 17-38 :  A helpful paradigm - Paul counsels  the elders  of the Church at Ephesus

In Acts 19 we saw that Paul spent almost three years in Ephesus. It is by far the most time that he had spent anywhere in the churches in the regions of Asia and Macedonia and Greece. Here a church was born, and to this church was written the wonderful letter to the Ephesians. Many years after this, John the last surviving apostle writes from the island of Patmos, more than 40 years after the founding of the church at Ephesus. He says that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and that he was directed by the risen Lord Jesus to write alternatively a letter of warning or a letter of encouragement to 7 churches in the Asian region (Rev. 1:9-20). The first letter was directed to the Ephesians and we know that it is a letter of warning.  At that time they had become a church that had an orthodox flavour about it, but it had abandoned its first love. There can be no guessing what that means. They had become like the Pharisees who had an orthodoxy about them, but they had no love for Jesus. I remind us all that orthodoxy not rooted in a real love for the Lord Jesus Christ kills!  
So Paul is now  done with his ministry in Ephesus.  From there he went back up to Macedonia and then again down to Greece. After  ministry there, presumably in Corinth, he got on to a ship (20:13) and in Acts 20:22  we read  that  Paul was  on his way back to  Jerusalem, with the love gift  for the poor  brothers and sisters in  Jerusalem. They stopped over at Miletus, not far from Ephesus and there Paul asked that the elders of the church at Ephesus should come to see him. He had some important last words to share with them. Last words  are   powerful. They are condensed and full of weight. 

Paul's last words to the Ephesian pastors/elders about their work are deeply instructive.
1.     Paul begins with an appeal  for them to consider his own life as a minister of the gospel , and please note, that it is not a sign of pride  for him to say  what he said in vv. 18-21. It was the truth after all!

2.     Then he informs them of his plans (vv. 22-24).   He says  that he  is  ‘constrained by the Spirit’ to go to Jerusalem, knowing very well  that  he is in constant danger of being imprisoned and  hurt by his enemies. He informs them that he does not care much about his own life. He must finish the course and the ministry which he has received from the Lord Jesus, the ministry of testifying  to the gospel of the grace of God.

3.     He informs them that he thinks that it is unlikely that they will see him  again, and  he makes it clear again that they understand that he has not omitted to tell them anything they needed to know for their life and ministry in Ephesus. He says, “I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (20:27). That in essence is the mandate of a biblical pastoral ministry. The work of the pastor is to make the whole counsel of Scripture known to  the flock.

4.     However, the pastoral ministry is  not easy to maintain for reasons now given in  vv.  28-30. The pastoral ministry, the gospel ministry  threatens  Satan’s kingdom  like nothing else on earth.  The gospel is the undoing of Satan’s work on earth, and pastors lead the charge . Now tell me: Who do you think  Satan would love to get out of the way , if not the true shepherds of God?  “Strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered” (Matt. 26:31 cf.  Zech. 13:7

So now the counsel  of the apostle to the Ephesian elders becomes relevant in 5 ways:

(i) "Pay careful attention to yourselves …". The first duty of the pastor-elder  is to make sure that his own spiritual life is in order. How can he preach/teach/lead, if  his life does not lead by example? We all know the proverb "Actions speak louder than words" - so why do pastors spend so much more time on the preparation of words, and how they might look and come across, rather than looking at their lives? Why should anyone have confidence in someone who leads us only with biblical words but with no biblical actions? So then  the pastor's first work is to make sure that he keeps watch of over his own soul.  Life in a fallen world affects the elder as much as it affects his flock. This requires a reflective, prayerful and careful way of living and thinking,  fueled by a solid knowledge and understanding of the Word of God.  Reflection upon God's Word should therefore first sink into the soul of the pastor, before He preaches to others. Our profession of what we believe should be first seen in our own life, our  speech, our  public conduct and  especially  in terms of how we treat our families.  
A particular area in which a pastor-elder needs to watch himself is in the temptation to let  his personality and  ambition rule. I mention that, because if  slackness in  devotional habits  has killed thousands of  pastor/elders  and their ministries,  then   pride, the great snare  of a spiritual leader, has slain her ten thousands.  Pride in the heart of  a pastor -elder  gives Satan an opportunity  to invade the church. More about that in v.30.   So Pastor- Elders, Shepherds, Overseers   must constantly work against  their  flesh and say to themselves repeatedly, ‘Not I , but Christ!’ John the Baptist said, ‘ I must decrease , He must increase!’ (Jn 3:30).  

(ii) Elder’s must keep watch to themselves and to all the flock. How do overseers   keep watch over their flock? The main task is to feed them with the Word of God. The work of the teaching pastors of the church  is to have regular times with their  people, to equip them, train them, counsel, encourage, rebuke  them with the help of God's Word - the Truth. Listen to what William Still says to pastors: "It is to feed sheep on such truth, that men are called to churches. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and to go to be a street sweeper; a far healthier and more godly job , keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goat-land. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God… (and p.23)… "The ministers who are the greatest failures are not necessarily those who make such havoc of a church that they have to pass on and  leave someone else  to put Humpty Dumpty together again (for that may mean merely re-establishing the synthesis of church and world again) , but the greatest failures are those who, having tried to "run" Christ's church as a money making racket, a clockwork train, or a social free for all , depart and leave a spiritual wilderness behind them, in which the one thing that is not known at all is the Word of God."[1]

(iii) Pastor – elders  are to undertake their ministry with the knowledge that it  is laid upon them by the Holy Spirit!  They need to consciously work in submission to the Holy Spirit who calls them with  the common consent of the church (Acts 13:1-3), and who works  through them   by His own  inspired Word.   Many people think that  any Dick, Tom and Harry can preach, as long as he can open his mouth. Paul makes it very clear that the call to preach is a matter of being Spirit - enabled! Those  among the elders who are called  to preach and teach in the main  must  have an awakening ministry. There must be  a response to the Word preached.   William Still says it again: "The whole soul of man, even ungodly man, cries out against the Word of God as a dead thing. But where the Spirit of God is, there may and will be unpleasant manifestations, but there will not be boredom. Divisions there will be, some for and some against- that is another story - but there will be life, and the Word of God will cut and melt ice, even if it confirms the unmeltability of some ice!" 
It is important that pastor-elders  lead the congregation with Spirit directed power and if the Spirit of God be not with them  in  that  ministry then may God have mercy upon the congregation! 

(iv) Pastors are called to oversee the flock. This is not a matter of lording it over God's people (1 Peter 5:1-3), but a matter of making sure that God's flock are encouraged to behave in accordance with His word. What sort of pastor is it, when one of God's people runs headlong into sin, does nothing about it? Of course it is notoriously difficult to bring back a wayward member. They always  will resent being challenged and rebuked. But is it not an act of love to rescue a sleeping person out of a burning house? Congregations must realize that it is the pastor's duty to inquire into their spiritual health, and to ask questions, and to visit with them pastorally. I get the impression that many people don't like it when pastors do that. They would rather have a smiling tea-drinking sort of chap that doesn't challenge them. Remember they are accountable to God for your souls. Do not hinder them in their work. Encourage your pastor to visit you - particularly when you are struggling!

(v) Pastors are called to protect the flock.  Every biblical  church is a thorn in Satan’s side. Spiritual wolves converge upon the flock.   
  • Sometimes they come from the outside (v.29) and they prey particularly on weak sheep. It is in the nature of sheep to be careless at times. Often they walk where angels fear to tread. They stray off the road into Satan’s domain, and  then he mauls them because they become careless. Many sheep live with the consequences of their disobedience - some with greater consequences than others.   Pastors can do very little when some of their  people begin to flirt with sin -  the  flesh, the world and  the devil.  Often the only thing pastor elders  can do, when their people  have been hurt  by Satan through their  obedience is to  tend them and to nurse them back to spiritual health. 
  • However  in v. 30 Paul  also reminds us that  Satan’s wolves  may also come from the insidespeaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples  after them.  Did you know that the church  is not always the safest place from Satan’s attacks?   Satan finds    people in leadership  with sinful dispositions,  and he frequently  uses  such  that occupy a teaching office in the church, to  cause division and confusion and church splits. We have seen all these things at Eastside  in the 33 years of our existence.  

5.  Consider Paul’s  passionate  and repeated warning in v. 31. Paul is a faithful pastor himself, and he warns these Ephesian pastors to watch themselves and to expect to be attacked, within and without.

6. Consider Paul’s prayerful commitment of these pastors in v.32, and his repeated affirmation concerning the integrity of his ministry  in vv. 33-35.  How we need  to have pastors  to our  pastors who speak the truth in love  and remind them  not to be na├»ve  concerning the nature of the pastoral ministry.

7. Consider   Paul’s  moving closing prayer as they all kneel on the beach, as they would ask the Lord of the church  to keep His flock at Ephesus. At the  beginning and at the end of the work of the pastor there is the  unwavering commitment to prayer   for  the flock of Jesus. 

[1] William Still: The Work of the Pastor 

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Our general theme at this time is,  “Life in the Father’s House”. We meditate for a season on the meaning of the church and of Life in the Church.  We do not want you to have small thoughts,  no small ideals of the church. We want you to think the same thoughts as Christ does  about the church. 

We began our series with  the consideration of  Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Two thoughts derive from that text: 

(i) The true church belongs ultimately to Jesus. He laid down His Life for her. He purchased her people with His blood, and therefore the church belongs to Him. She is not a human franchise business, such as some church denominations sometimes seem to indicate.  
(ii) The true church is indestructible. Satan cannot destroy her and the church will outlast this world  and  she will continue   in  the new creation  –in eternity, as the  body of Christ, who is the Head of the church (Eph.  1:22,23)

Last  week Pastor Brits  continued  and asked the question: “What does the church do?” How does the church   on earth express herself?”  He pointed us to the spontaneous activity of the church after Pentecost  and by taking us to Acts 2:42  he answered  from  the Scriptures: The church meets  to gather under the Word of God, and to have fellowship, to  break bread (to remember  her Lord Jesus Christ in the Lord’s supper), and to pray.  These are the primary marks and activities  of the church, and whatever we do not do, we must not fail  to do this.  

When we talk about the church we speak of her in two senses: The church universal and the church local.  In most instances in the Bible the church speaks of the local church, and therefore our reference point in this series is to the local church. Our definition of the church is, “an assembly of the people belonging to the Lord”. The church universal or local  should  reflect this fact.  The church is a holy people, separated from the world and separated to God. The church is not like the world. She is distinct from the world and yet she is  a part of the world. She influences the world as salt and light. Salt preserves and stops the rot and light dispels darkness (Matt. 5:13-16).  The church is made up of people  that have  been purchased by  Jesus  and they  have  been born again  (Jn 3).

Today, we want to look at the subject of worship and the church . 

Worship is that which grabs your heart most,  after all is said and done. We essentially are what we worship. For the Christian,  God is the center of  worship  and therefore our thesis  is  this :”the church is made to worship God”, and every true church must reflect that priority. So,   the church is made to worship God. Now, at face value hat seems to be pretty obvious, but is it? 

The church in our age and in every age has struggled with this concept, and for many people in our day  worship has been reduced to   that time in the service when we sing. We have a worship band and a worship leader and we sing songs of worship.  At a strategic point of the service the worship leader says: “We have now finished worshiping God, and now it is time for the 15 minute sermon.”  But is that it?  Is that worship? We want to argue that worship is more than that . It is a mindset and a way of life that inhabits the life of the individual member of the  church.  We want to argue that all that we are and all that we do reflects worship.  Let us then look at a text in the Bible that teaches us the heart of true worship. 

Psalm 95
Psalm 95 is part of a group of Psalms that praise and worship   God as King (cf. Pss. 93; 95-100). Psalm 95 has long been used in the church as a call to worship. [1] This Psalm can be divided into two parts: 
(i) Vv. 1-7b   reflects a call to worship 
(ii) Vv. 7c- 11 a warning against false worship. We are often helped to appreciate the true by considering what is false. As I said, this Psalm helps us to understand that heart of church life – worship – giving the Lord the glory and honour that is due to His Name!  

And so, in  verses 1-7, we  find the call  to worship.  It begins with exuberant rejoicing. God’s people are a happy and joyful and singing because they see  what God has done for them. Note also  the following  aspects  associated with our worship: 

(i)        Worship is God-centered. There is a preoccupation with God. Worship is not music driven, or personality driven, and least of all, it is not  some kind of self-energized enthusiasm.  Biblical worship has God in mind.  A faulty view of  God  or  a little view of God  diminishes our worship.

(ii)           Worship is congregational:  Four times in vv.1,2 we read of the ’us’, “Let us sing,  let us make a joyful noise; let us  come into his presence  …”  

(iii)       Worship is vocal:  The words employed in verses 1 and 2 all refer to a vocal, public praise of God. Here it is not subdued. It is exuberant. The phrase ‘Joyful noise’ (cf v.1b, 2b)  comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to raise a shout.”[2] This was done in anticipation of a battle or a triumph[3]. Some Christians think that our singing to God cannot be loud or exuberant.   Now while there is such a thing as a jarring and irritating noise made by overpowering instruments, perhaps because the musicians are man centered and focused on themselves, there can be nothing more God glorifying than a congregation singing loud and exuberantly to the praise of her God.  We will speak about the silent aspects of worship in a moment, but for now, let us settle the point that an aspect of our worship is loud.

(iv)          Worship must  be based on truth. 
  •             In vv. 3-4  we are helped to understand what ought to excite our worship. Consider  the primary  biblical truth  in  Psalm 95 which  helps us to sing exuberantly: V.3  The LORD (YAHWEH) is a great God (El)   and a great king (Melech) above all gods (Elohim). The  primary  truth which ought to govern our worship  is  that our  God is sovereign. He is our King.   
  •           Moreover,  from Vv. 4 & 5   we learn more about the nature of God’s sovereignty. Here we learn that God is the Creator and Owner of the earth. He is sovereign over every aspect of life on this earth. He is sovereign over the depths, the heights, the sea and the dry land.  We find here the totality of His creation and control of the earth. The world is not only the work of His hands, but it is in His hands right now. That is a reason for praise, particularly as we survey the news.
  •             In vv. 6,7 the effects  of that worship  on the lips  of the worshipper  sink deep down into the worshiper’s  heart. The worshipers are no longer making a joyful noise, no longer singing loudly.  The key word that characterizes the first five verses is praise, while the key word that summarizes vv.  6 and 7 is ‘bow down’. Worship involves both, making a joyful praise and a speechless bowing down. When the God who is praised is understood, we are silent and we are comforted.  We experience Him as our personal God, our Maker, and our Shepherd. 

False Worship :  A Warning From Massah and Meribah  (95:7c-11)

Life in a fallen world severely challenges worship. We see it illustrated  in the following  verses, which are an illustration from Israel’s  flawed history of  worship. The reference here  is to the waters  Meribah and Massah.  The illustration from Israel’s history  is taken  from  2 incidents  which  illustrated  the conduct of God’s people who had hardened hearts- another way  to say that they  did not have their God on their minds. (Ex. 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13). Meribah is derived from the Hebrew word for strife. Massah means  test. Both incidents refer  to  times  in the life of  Israel when, after having been brought out  of Egypt  and through the desert by God with great signs and wonders and visible miracles, they  refused to believe and trust God when they saw that there was no water (see Ex. 17:7). They refused to   worship God in their experience.  This text is cited in Hebrews 3:7-11, and there it refers to Hebrew people who were tempted  to give up on Jesus, when times got tough.  So then, we find  a dramatic change of tone in the closing verses  8-11  of this Psalm.  And the repeated point concerning this  incident is  that  God’s people refused  to worship  when it came to a time of testing.  They became faithless. They hardened their hearts  against God. Faithlessness and a hardened heart are the sworn enemies of worship. So we must see that Massah and Meribah are not just historical incidents. They are manifestations of a persistent problem with true worship. These problems are  picked up in Psalm 95 and in Hebrews 3:7-11, and they are addressed as  worship problems .  

We cannot  take the message of this Psalm lightly, because the New Testament makes it clear that the warning of this text applies as much to men and women of our time as it did in ages past.

The message of this Psalm, both to its original audience and to us: 

  • We should worship God as a congregation, both by our rejoicing (vv. 1-2) and by our reverence (v. 6). 
  • Our worship is to be based both on God’s sovereignty as our Creator (vv. 3-5) and Sustainer and  Shepherd (vv. 6-7).  
  • Vv. 7c-11 remind us that we must worship God by our obedience
  • We must learn to worship in good an challenging times.  Worship is not just the repetition of rituals or the shouting of praises or participating in any acts of reverence. 
  • True worship begins in the heart, and it governs  our mind and actions.  
  • Let us take very careful note then  of the relationship between the exhortation to worship God in verses 1-7 and the warning of verses 8-11 where we are reminded that failure to worship is  induced  by a hardened heart.

 You need to ask the following of yourself:[4]
  • How much do I know about what the Bible says about worship?
  • Who can help me learn more about biblical worship?
  • Do I want above all to draw near to God in worship?
  • Do I want to please God rather than myself in worship?
  • Do I understand my responsibility to worship God with his people regularly?
  • Will I seek God’s will in worship while avoiding a judgmental and legalistic spirit toward others?
You  need to ask the  following about the worship of any church you attend:
  • Does this church love and believe the Bible? Is the worship of this church filled with the Word of God?
  • How much of the service is given to the reading of the Bible?
  • How much of the service is given to biblical prayer?
  • How much of the service is given to singing that is biblical in content?
  • What is the content of the preaching? Is preaching a substantial part of the service?
  • Is the Law of God clearly present in the service? (Without law you cannot understand gospel)
  • Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly expressed and central in the service?
  • What is the role of the ordinances  in the ministry of the church?
  • Are both joyful thanksgiving and reverent awe expressed and balanced in the service
An Invitation to Worship

Oh come, let us worship and  bow down;  let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture,  and the sheep  of his hand.  (Ps. 95:6-7)

We need to heed that call to worship and to identify with a congregation that worships faithfully. We must worship in a way that pleases God, for our God is a consuming fire.

This  service ended with celebrating the Lord's Supper. 

[1] ‘Before the beginning of their prayers,’ writes Athanasius of the practice of the Church of Constantinople, ‘Christians invite and exhort one another in the words of this Psalm.’ In the Western Church the whole Psalm appears to have been generally used. In the Eastern Church an invitatory founded on it is used at the commencement of service.” A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House , 1982), p. 572.
[2] The primary nuance of the word ranan is to “cry out” or to “give a ringing cry” (BDB). It may refer to jubilant singing, but not necessarily so.
[3] Josh. 6:10,16,20; 1 Sam. 4:5; 17:20,52
[4] From an article  by Dr. Robert Godfrey : “ PLEASING GOD IN OUR WORSHIP “